Feb. 20 (UPI) -- Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, died Monday in New York, one day before his 65th birthday, the Russian officials said.
Churkin, who served as Russia's permanent representative to the United Nations since 2006, "died suddenly," the Russian Foreign Ministry announced.
"A prominent Russian diplomat has passed away while at work. We'd like to express our sincere condolences to Vitaly Churkin's family," the ministry added
Russia's deputy U.N. ambassador, Vladimir Safronkov, said Churkin had become ill in his office and was taken to Columbia Presbyterian Hospital where he died.
Churkin's death was announced at U.N. headquarters and there was a moment of silence.
Matthew Rycroft, the British ambassador to the United Nations, told CNN that Churkin was a "diplomatic giant."
Before this appointment at the United Nations, Churkin was ambassador at large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation from 2003-06. He was ambassador to Canada from 1998 to 2003.
Churkin, born in 1952, graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in 1974 and shortly afterward began career in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He held a Ph.D. in history.
"He was an outstanding person. He was brilliant, bright, a great diplomat of our age," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RT, adding that the news of Churkin's death was "completely shocking."